Doctor Who Season 24: Time And The Rani Review
Before it was the social media battle cry of an embittered faction of Whovian fandom railing against the casting of Jodie Whittaker, “Leave the girl, it’s the man I want!” was the portentous opening line to DOCTOR WHO’s latest narrative – and real-life – regeneration as the series exploded back to life in 1987 with TIME AND THE RANI after a nail-biting nine months off-screen during which the Trial Of A Time Lord went to appeal.
Not since Jon Pertwee’s Doctor materialised in glorious colour had the show undergone such a radical makeover to accompany the arrival of a new Doctor. The uncommon cold open starts with some next level (by the series’ own standards) special effects as an entirely CGI TARDIS is buffeted by random bolts of energy. Inside, Mel (Bonnie Langford) and the Doctor (Colin Baker – or is it? No, it’s not, it’s Sylvester McCoy in a wig) are unconscious as the trusty time machine is brought to a forced landing on Lykertya. As the Doctor’s face-down body is rolled back over, the regeneration is in full effect and before we know it, the Seventh Doctor has arrived!
Written by Pip and Jane Baker, those same writers so criticised by a young Chris Chibnall who – with chilling irony – would rise to the exalted position of showrunner only to deliver scripts worse than those his teenage self was so derisive of, TIME AND THE RANI is something of a generic DOCTOR WHO adventure, with little to mark it as distinctively Seventh Doctor-ish at this early stage. Happily, though, that very lack of specificity provides a broad, blank canvas to reintroduce the series and its protagonist to the audience.
The opening titles are a fresh revelation too. High-tech computer graphics have replaced the old (recently rainbowfied) starfield with a swirling abstract galactic cluster and Keff McCulloch’s synth-heavy new theme tune arrangement. The logo may feel a little more like something befitting a daytime chat show than a wanderer in space and time but you already know the Seventh Doctor’s in on the joke because he gives us a wink before the adventure starts.
The actual plot of TIME AND THE RANI is driven by its title character’s latest scheme for universal domination and – like her previous scheme in 19th Century Killingworth – doesn’t make a lick of sense and, despite her protestations of unparalleled genius, seems weirdly reliant on the Doctor’s expertise to make it work but none of that really matters because Kate O’Mara’s having such a good time she single-handedly justifies the camp theatricality of it all. It does feel a little crowded with the Tetraps and Lykertians, neither of whom get quite enough development for them to work but really who cares for the monsters when you’ve got O’Mara doing a devastatingly devilish impersonation of Bonnie Langford and McCoy himself finding his feet – if not yet a steady tempo – as he starts to lay the foundations of his incarnation of the Doctor. Even Langford’s Mel seems more at ease with this incarnation of the Doctor, toning her performance down – when the script isn’t simply asking her to scweam and scweam and scweam – now that she doesn’t have to make herself seen and heard over that cacophonous coat.
Eight years ago, when I reviewed TIME AND THE RANI as part of THE REGENERATION GAME, I was both scathing and dismissive but revisiting it now, while it’s no series classic, it is a classic example of the series’ many foibles, especially when it comes to regenerations. We get the requisite TARDIS wardrobe scene with very on-brand for Jonathan Nathan-Turner whistlestop tour of all his predecessor’s costumes, a case of post-regeneration amnesia – played almost as bedroom farce thanks to the Rani’s Mel impersonation, more than our recommended daily allowance of malapropisms and even a couple of unwise interludes playing the spoons.
What it does benefit from is – by DOCTOR WHO standards of the time – fairly sumptuous production values and impressive special effects. The interior sets are nicely done if a little unremarkable but the location shooting (in a quarry, of course) is terrific. Yes, it’s still a quarry but real effort has been put into making it feel like an alien quarry. The costumes are great, the creature design is likewise superb and the special effects – particularly the explosive bubble traps.
Cheesy, goofy and very of its time, TIME AND THE RANI is mostly a fun ride and, in retrospect, a frothy and confident restatement of the reason for the show’s longevity. There’s a lightness of touch to new script editor Andrew Cartmel’s approach here, although he’d soon start to make his own mark on the series having used these first four adventures to feel out his cast and figure out just how far the Seventh Doctor could go.
Doctor Who The Collection: Series 24 will be released on 28th June 2021 and is available to pre-order now.